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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

First Scientific Dates Tell Story Of Skomer’s Prehistoric Island Landscape





Archaeologists have obtained the first accurate dates for prehistoric settlement on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, a landscape famed for its wildlife and for the survival of its ancient field systems, which are among the best preserved anywhere in Britain.
 
Excavations in 2014 at a prehistoric mound of burnt and fire-cracked stones on north Skomer, once used to boil water for cooking, have produced the first calibrated radiocarbon dates for farming settlement on this renowned island. The mound sealed a land surface dated by charcoal to between 520-458 cal BC, the early Iron Age. A cattle tooth deposited in the cooking mound while it was still in use was dated to between 116-54 cal BC, centred on 85 cal BC, the late Iron Age.


In April 2014 a small team of archaeologists was permitted to open the very first modern excavation trench in the island’s history, to retrieve dating and environmental samples to better understand the long and complex history of prehistoric settlement and farming on Skomer. This followed three years of collaborative, non-invasive research between staff of the Royal Commission, The University of Sheffield and Cardiff University, working closely with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Cadw.

Burnt mounds accumulated from a particular prehistoric cooking practice, which involved heating stones in a fire and then placing them into a water-filled wooden trough to boil the water. Once the water was boiling it could take around 3 hours to cook a joint of meat, with each successive cooking episode adding more waste burnt stones to the mound. The burnt mounds outside some of the roundhouse groups on Skomer Island are huge, and must have dominated the Iron Age landscape, alongside the conical thatched roofs of the houses.

Dr Toby Driver of the Royal Commission, Aberystwyth, explained:
‘Skomer is a fragile protected landscape, and our archaeological research to date has focussed on non-invasive investigation of the prehistoric fields and settlements. This has included new aerial photography, airborne laser scanning, ground geophysics and walkover surveys. Already we have discovered previously unknown Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual stone settings, and demonstrated that the field systems may date back to at least the later Bronze Age.’

 ‘But despite half a century of modern archaeological interest, we still had no scientific dates for the roundhouses and fields on Skomer. It was decided to target a prehistoric burnt mound or cooking mound of fire-cracked stones, which stands immediately outside one of the paired roundhouses. This mound built up from numerous cooking episodes in the adjacent house. Our excavation discovered a cattle tooth from within the mound of stones, which has now been radiocarbon dated to the late Iron Age. Beneath the mound we found a sealed land surface containing Neolithic or Bronze Age worked flint tools. A second radiocarbon date from blackthorn charcoal in the upper soil layers gave a an early Iron Age date, possibly from burning and clearance on the land, which showed our burnt mound and the houses it belongs to arrived after the early Iron Age. Both dates are accurate to within 62 years.’


‘These new dates confirm pre-Roman settlement on Skomer. Even so, the burnt mound covers a substantial earlier field wall showing that the island was already well settled and farmed in previous centuries.’


Find out more online

Photographs, maps and plans can be seen online at the Royal Commission’s online database www.coflein.gov.uk . Search for ‘Skomer’ to see all records, or ‘Skomer hut group 8’ to see a selection of the 2014 excavation photographs.

Direct link: http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/420196/details/SKOMER+ISLAND+HUT+GROUP+8/

Links to related BBC news stories: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-17644413

More about the Skomer Island archaeological project

Skomer is a highly protected landscape famous for its puffins and other breeding seabirds, but it is also home to some of the best preserved prehistoric field systems and hut settlements anywhere in Britain. In 2011 the Royal Commission used airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) to comprehensively map the island’s field systems. This work discovered evidence for a longer chronology to the fields than had previously been thought. The Skomer Island Project built on this work in 2012 with the first use of geophysics on the island, which showed that unrecorded prehistoric fields and settlements survive beneath the modern fields in the centre of the island.

The Skomer Island Project team, Louise Barker and Dr Toby Driver (Royal Commission), Dr Bob Johnston (University of Sheffield) and Dr Oliver Davis (Cardiff University) would like to thank the Skomer Island Wardens, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Natural Resources Wales for accommodating the archaeological work and granting permission to work in a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They are also grateful to Cadw for Scheduled Monument Consent which allowed the work to proceed.

Appendix: the radiocarbon dates


SKOMER ISLAND
SUERC-54181 (GU34955)

Context: 107, charcoal derived from buried soil layer beneath burnt mound
Material: Prunus cf. Spinosa (probable blackthorn)
Radiocarbon age: 2439 ± 30 BP (before 1950 AD)
Calibrated date (95.4& probability): 519-459 cal. BC
SUERC-55129 (GU34956)
Context: 108, Find 24. Cattle tooth deposited in upper layers of burnt mound
Material: Cattle tooth: Cattle
Radiocarbon age: 2035 ± 31 BP (before 1950 AD)
Calibrated date (95.4& probability): 116-54 cal. BC

Recording the excavation trench through a cooking mound of burnt stones on Skomer Island. The exposed stone wall of the Iron Age roundhouse can be seen at the end of the trench.
Crown Copyright RCAHMW, DS2014_354_018

The Skomer Island Project team (L-R), Dr Oliver Davis (Cardiff University), Louise Barker (RCAHMW), Dr Bob Johnston (University of Sheffield), Dr Toby Driver (RCAHMW).
Crown Copyright RCAHMW, DS2014_354_006


Skomer Island. A 3D view of the prehistoric field systems (in red) overlying a terrain model generated from airborne laser scanning or LiDAR.
Crown Copyright. Environment Agency. All Rights Reserved. View generated by RCAHMW, Crown Copyright RCAHMW. LD2012_02_01


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Friday, 26 September 2014

National Sporting Heritage Day and the Heritage of Wales






“Every pavilion or clubhouse has had its own struggle to be built and every club has faced its own fight for survival. It is why we cherish our fields of play and defend them furiously.” Eddie Butler

Although the Millennium stadium in Cardiff might be world famous, many of us take the existence of parks, recreation grounds and leisure centres for granted. In Fields of Play, the author, Daryl Leeworthy, explores the history of these everyday sites and examines the impact of sport on the landscape of modern Wales.

It explores the diversity of sporting facilities from the earliest public park opened in 1858 at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, through the Llwyn Onn swimming baths in Wrexham, opened in 1854, to the numerous welfare grounds that opened across Wales at the turn of the twentieth century. Lesser-known sporting venues are also highlighted, such as the American Roller rink in Cardiff from 1908, the Welsh White City greyhound stadium of 1928 and the short-lived Penarth Road Speedway Stadium from the 1950s.

A game of tennis, photographed around 1934, in the ruins of the Bishops Palace, St Davids, NPRN: 21633
Activities such as the Powderhall races, pushball, baseball, hill-climbing races in cars and the development of adventure playgrounds and leisure centres are all considered, alongside the better-known rugby, football and cricket that dominate the sporting press today.

The book also considers the sporting heritage of Wales in wider terms, with a chapter on the role of the countryside as a national playground, looking at the infrastructure generated by the rise in popularity of cycling, hill-walking, climbing and youth hostelling in the early twentieth century.
Superbly illustrated with 172 historical and contemporary photographs, including many never-before-seen images from the Aerofilms archive of the National Monuments Record of Wales, Fields of Play will enable an understanding of this significant aspect of Wales’ built heritage and encourage a greater appreciation of sporting places in the landscape.

Whatever you are doing to celebrate National Sporting Heritage Day on Tuesday 30 September 2014  it is worth remembering that without the efforts of those who struggled to create the parks and open spaces of Wales over a century ago, we would all have far fewer sporting facilities than we have today.

The book is priced at £9.95 and is available from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and all good bookshops.

Fields of Play: The Sporting Heritage of Wales by Daryl Leeworthy, with a Foreword by Eddie Butler, published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, 2012, 180pp, 172 illustrations, size 252x224mm.
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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Open Doors 2014: Come and find out more about our chapels!





Seion Chapel , Aberystwyth, NPRN: 7149.
 Bethel Chapel , Aberystwyth, NPRN: 7147. 
The flamboyant facades of the Baker Street chapels remain impressive over 100 years after construction.
As part of Open Doors 2014, on 20 September the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth will be opening its doors for a chapels’ history day. The day will involve talks by leading experts, the display of rare archive material, and the opportunity to discover more about our database of over 6000 chapels, and the exciting partnership project between the Royal Commission and Addoldai Cymru. At 1.30pm and 2pm there will also be the opportunity to join guided tours of some of Aberystwyth’s finest historic chapels. Led by a chapels expert from the Royal Commission, each tour will start from outside The English Baptist Chapel, Alfred Place, and will take between 1½ and 2 hours. The tours will conclude with tea, cake and biscuits at St Paul’s Methodist Centre, Queens Road, Aberystwyth. For further information and booking, please contact nicola.roberts@rcahmw.gov.uk, tel: 01970 621200.

First held in France in 1984, Open Doors is part of European Heritage Days, which take place across Europe every year in September and is organised in Wales by Cadw. It is an annual celebration,  which promotes architecture and the built heritage to as wide an audience as possible  by opening up buildings not normally open to the public, and by offering free entry to those sites that usually charge for entry.

'Open Doors is a national celebration of our heritage, and an excellent opportunity for people who care about their local heritage to share their passion with visitors by showing them their little corner of Wales’s history.' Minister for Natural Resources, Culture and Sport 2014


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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Job Vacancy - Learning Officer People’s Collection Wales





National Museum Cardiff, National Roman Legion Museum or National Slate Museum

29 hours per week

Contract up to 31 March 2015
(Secondments would be supported)


People’s Collection Wales is a Welsh Government-funded bilingual programme that enables individuals to celebrate Wales’ history through the sharing of their own personal stories.

The postholder will be responsible for developing and delivering exciting and innovative learning and training resources based on the People’s Collection Wales programme. The post-holder will also contribute to training educationalists in the museums, libraries and archives sector to use the website.

The successful candidate will have a good understanding of the National Curriculum as well as excellent project management and communication skills.

This post requires a good standard of spoken Welsh, for example, the ability to take an active part in meetings and presentations.

To apply please visit our website www.museumwales.ac.uk

Closing Date: 18 September 2014 (by 5pm)

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is an equal opportunities employer. Applications are welcome from all sections of the community.



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Monday, 1 September 2014

Open Doors 2014: Come and find out more about chapels!





Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen, nprn:11594
Talks by leading experts, archival material, and the opportunity to discover more about the database of over 6000 chapels, and the exciting partnership project between the Royal Commission and Addoldai Cymru.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Unitarian Chapel, Trecynon, Aberdare, CF44 8NT.
6 September, 10am-12pm. Exhibition and talk by Stephen Hughes, “Chapels: The National Architecture of Wales”.

Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen, Rhydowen, Llandysul, Ceredigion, SA44 4QB.
13 September, 3-6pm. Local choir and talk by Stephen Hughes, “Chapels: The National Architecture of Wales” Refreshments available from the Alltyrodyn Arms, Rhydowen.
Seion Chapel, Aberystwyth, nprn:7147
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Plascrug, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 1NJ. 20 September, talks 11am -1pm, tours 1.30pm and 2pm. The afternoon tours of Aberystwyth’s historic chapels are limited to 15 people per tour. For further information and booking, please contact nicola.roberts@rcahmw.gov.uk, tel: 01970 621200. Tours will start at 1.30pm and 2pm and will meet outside The English Baptist Chapel, Alfred Place, Aberystwyth.


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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

From Horrible Histories to work at the Royal Commission!





My love for history has taken me on a path that has led me from a love of Horrible Histories and The Mummy movies to a degree in Historical and Archival Studies at Aberystwyth University and a work placement at RCAHMW (and more horrible histories). As part of my course, I spent the whole of the month of July with  the Archives and Library team at the Commission and it strengthened my ambition to become an archivist.
 

I started my placement cataloguing the RCAHMW Wall Paintings in Welsh Churches Collection, which is centred around St Teilo’s Church, once in Llandeilo Talybont and now rebuilt at the St Fagan’s National History Museum. In this one collection I got to grips with correspondence, negatives, slides, tracings and field notes, all about the astonishing wall paintings found inside the church. This collection amazed me and opened my eyes to the exciting world of archives that until then I’d only known academically.



Having finished that collection, I worked on six more, the most exciting being the Excavations Collection. This collection of field notes, photographs and correspondence was in dire need of organisation and TLC, but I was assured that I was up to the task. Each box was more and more interesting, and there were even a few laughs to be had as when one archaeologist, struggling with dating a site, wrote to another saying, ‘I wish these tiresome people had used pottery’ !


I also did my bit for RCAHMW’s social media, and  tweeted about my work here over the last month. I hope to return to volunteer ─as I start my third year at the university─ and carry on with the work I love so much, in an organisation that has really welcomed me.

P.S. I’ve also learned that I hate rusty staples.


   

Charlotte Hollis,Aberystwyth University work-placement student



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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Summer drought in south and west Wales reveals new archaeological sites





There were more archaeological surprises this year for the Royal Commission’s aerial archaeologist, as  widespread hot weather in June and July parched grasslands and showed ‘cropmarks’ in ripening fields of wheat. 


Figure 1: Right place, right time. Known cropmark of an Iron Age defended enclosure (upper centre) north of Cardigan, photographed from the air as it is harvested. In an hour or two the site will be cropped, and will disappear until the next dry summer (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 23 July 2014).
Dr Toby Driver explained:  ‘Despite the hot weather, frequent rain showers in many parts of Wales meant that cropmarks and parchmarks did not develop everywhere. Only in the south and west, across Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan did the persistent drought reveal scores of prehistoric and Roman sites. Parchmarks of the Roman road running west of Carmarthen, as far as Wiston in Pembrokeshire, were seen for the first time since 1994 showing just how dry it got in the south-west.’

Dr Driver continued. ‘At the Royal Commission we have to be responsive to changing weather and crop conditions each summer. As the photo of the enclosure north of Cardigan shows, an hour either side of a flight can make the difference between obtaining a permanent record of a cropmark, or missing it completely.’

Figure 2: The Roman road west of Carmarthen, showing as a parched line approaching Whitland for the first time since 1994 (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 30 July 2014).
Pembrokeshire held the most surprises, which was astonishing given the number of discoveries made across the county in the 2013 summer drought . As the dry summer of 2014 wore on, this coastal landscape yielded yet more unrecorded prehistoric sites. Close by the Rhoscrowther oil refinery in south Pembrokeshire a splendid concentric prehistoric defended enclosure was discovered in a field of ripening wheat. New defended enclosures of Iron Age or Romano-British type and plough-levelled Bronze Age barrows were recorded near Dale, near Broadhaven, and along the north coast near Carreg Sampson chambered tomb, Trefin.


Figure 3: The ghostly outline of a new Iron Age concentric enclosure near Rhoscrowther, south Pembrokeshire (AP_2014_3228, Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 22 July 2014)

AdFigure 4: Spectacular colours accompanied further discoveries of enclosures and hillforts close to Dale in south Pembrokeshire (AP_2014_3294, Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 22 July 2014).

A number of new sites were also discovered in south Wales, and included an unexpected prehistoric enclosure on a rocky headland at Oxwich on Gower, just south-east of the famous Oxwich Castle.


Figure 5. General view of Oxwich Castle, Gower, with cropmarks of the new defended enclosure in the right foreground (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 23 July 2014).
Work back in the office to catalogue and record these discoveries will continue at the Royal Commission well into the winter months.

See our online gallery of aerial photographs for further images from our collections.

                                                                                                                             Toby Drive



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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

31 July 1917, Sergeant Rees Actions Won Him The Victoria Cross





On 31 July 1917, Sergeant Ivor Rees of the 38th Welsh Division, South Wales Borderers, stormed an enemy machine-gun position. His action won him the highest military award for gallantry in the face of the enemy – the Victoria Cross.

The citation that was published in the London Gazette on 14 September, read:
“At Pilckem, Belgium, on 31 July 1917, an enemy machine gun inflicted many casualties when it opened fire at close range. Sergeant Rees, leading his platoon, gradually worked his way round the right flank, by making short rushes, to the rear of the gun position. At 20 yards from the machine gun, Sergeant Rees rushed forward towards it, shooting one of the crew, and bayoneting the other. He bombed a large concrete emplacement, killing five of the enemy and taking 30 prisoners, including two officers and capturing a machine gun, undamaged.”

Ivor Rees was born in Felinfoel, Llanelli, in 1893. He joined up in 1914, leaving his job as a steelworker, and quickly rose up to the rank of sergeant. He survived the war and returned home to Llanelli, but was unemployed for some time. Eventually he found work with the local council, where he once again rose through the ranks and became a head of department.

In the Second World War he joined the Home Guard, serving as a Company Sergeant-Major.
Rees was a fairly common surname in the district, and the locals used to refer to Rees the Postman, Rees the Baker, and Rees the VC.

He died at Tyisha, Llanelli, on 12 March 1967, and was buried at Morriston Cemetery. He has memorials at Havard Chapel, Llanelli Town Hall, Brecon Cathedral, and there is now a garden, dedicated to his memory, in his home town.

His Victoria Cross is proudly on display at the The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh, Brecon (South Wales Borderers Collection).

By Medwyn Parry


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